In 1997 Marvel Comics introduced readers to it's newest team of heroes with the publication of "Thunderbolts" #1 by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley. Upon reaching the final page of the comic, fans realized they were witnessing history being made as the Thunderbolts unmasked, revealing they really weren't heroes at all. They were in fact members of Baron Helmut Zemo's Masters of Evil, pretending to be heroes in order to gain access to many valuable and strategic targets. However, something unforeseen happened as posing as good guys gave the T-Bolts a taste of what it was like to be actual heroes - and it was addictive.
The struggle to transform into a team legitimately trying to do good was a long, hard and noble endeavor, but it was also a successful one - until the U.S. government made the Thunderbolts an official government sanctioned team and put Norman Osborn in charge of the program. Using the team to harass and harm unregistered superheroes, Osborn was eventually put in charge of all the U.S.'s superhuman law enforcement programs at which point he transformed the T-Bolts into a clandestine group of black-ops assassins.
Now, the Heroic Age of the Marvel Universe has begun and Steve Rogers hopes to return the Thunderbolts program back to it's redemptive roots. To that end, the former Captain America has tasked Luke Cage with leading a group of super-powered convicts into the field to do some good and eventually earn their release. Currently Cage is facing an uphill battle in turning the team into an effective positive force. They barely survived their first mission to investigate a deposit of the Inhumans' mutation inducing Terrigen Crystals that appeared on Earth. After that, in a tie-in to "Shadowland," Luke sent the team on an unsanctioned mission to save a policeman son of an old friend who had been imprisoned by the ninja cult known as the Hand. They failed in their task, and in this week's milestone anniversary issue "Thunderbolts" #150, Luke must deal with some complicated feelings about his new team.
Writer Jeff Parker and artist Kev Walker detail the struggle of Cage and his current team of Juggernaut, Crossbones, Ghost, Moonstone and Man-Thing. We spoke with Parker about the issue and his plans for the series.
CBR News: Jeff, this week you get to play an important part in the history of "Thunderbolts" with the release of issue #150. How does that feel and why do you think the Thunderbolts concept has endured for as long as it has?
Jeff Parker: Readers really, really like Marvel's rogues gallery, and "Thunderbolts" gives them a place to go see more of the villains without having to wait for them to come through Spider-Man or the X-Men and other books. Also, you know that you're going to get to see other sides of these characters, not just them as enemies.
In issue #149 you set the stage for #150 with some very interesting revelations. For example, thanks to his exposure to the Terrigen Mists, Crossbones now has super-powered abilities. And it seems like they've only served to amplify his negative personality traits. Is that correct?
It always seemed that Terrigen Mists, kind of like Cosmic Rays, built powers off of a person's traits or qualities. Crossbones shoots people, and as a result he's become a living gun. That's all we needed, a Crossbones who never has to reload! But he was a pretty bad guy to begin with, he hasn't done anything he probably wouldn't have done before, like, say, blowing a hole through a policeman
Speaking of Crossbones murdering a policemen, In "Thunderbolts" #149 Ghost witnessed Crossbones's murder of the police officer they came to rescue. And while he's worked with bad people and done bad things, Ghost doesn't seem like an outright evil individual. So we have to wonder, why didn't he speak up about what he saw?
I'm not going to speak to that since you're about to read #150.
Let's talk a little bit about issue #150, then. It looks like Steve Rogers, Thor and Iron Man head to the Raft to have some words with some of Luke Cage's team members. What does this mean for Luke? Is he okay with his fellow Avengers coming in to have face time with his team members?
Well, Steve is there to see how things are working out so far with his big appointment of Luke Cage, the move that made Thunderbolts able to continue in a new incarnation run out of The Raft. Luke would normally be fine with this, but what went down below Shadowland has made him really cynical about the Thunderbolts as a whole. But they're still going on a joint mission, which if you're reading all my stuff, you'll catch that it's related to "Scorched Earth" going on over in "Hulk."
Issue #150 also seems to be chock full of bonus material. What sort of extra features can readers expect?
"Thunderbolts" editor Rachel Pinnelas : Readers are treated to a never-before-seen reprint of the mega-sized "Thunderbolts" #1 as well as a history of the team up until now as told by the lovely and amazing Songbird and Moonstone; the cherry and chocolate syrup to the super-sized sundae of a story for issue #150!
Looking further down the line, "Thunderbolts" #151 puts the spotlight on Ghost. What do you feel are this character's most interesting character traits?
I like that Ghost uses his mind, and uses it well. And that he's paranoid. But as we often see, his paranoia usually turns out to have a basis. I think we're all closer to being like Ghost than we'd like to think ourselves. In #151, you're going to get to see him when he was a normal guy, and that may be an eye opener. How does someone like us become Ghost?
After the Ghost issue, you kick off the new year by embroiling the T-Bolts in a story that, as you pointed out earlier, has it's origins in your current "Scorched Earth" storyline in "Hulk." Is it the start of an arc or a one-off issue?
You may have seen on a monitor in "Hulk" #25 when Steve Rogers was talking about "Scorched Earth" that The Thunderbolts were pitching in already. It's simply a cascading series of world-destruction plans implemented by M.O.D.O.K. and The Leader in the event of their defeat, following the notion that there might as well not be an Earth if they weren't around to rule it. The Thunderbolts are called in to fight a big, big menace.
While Luke and his team of super powered convicts seem to be the stars of this book, you've also kept three of the original T-Bolts around in important supporting roles. Will Songbird, Fixer and Mach-5 continue to play a role in this series in the months ahead and into next year?
Yes, the originals get more involved in ways that may surprise you. They, of course, have had many years of spotlight, so it's not necessary for them to hog it now, but they will be stepping back on stage. That's what I like about this book, it's a big ensemble piece, and it's going to get even bigger. But I'll save that info for a later date.
Speaking of original T-Bolts members, Ed Brubaker brought Zemo back into the Marvel Universe with his recent "Captain America" storyline. Do you have any desire to use the Baron in T-Bolts?
(Parker whistles and looks over in the corner)
Fair enough! Beyond Zemo, then, can you share any hints as to what readers should expect from "Thunderbolts" in 2011?
You're going to get a peek at the true nature of some of these characters when they go to the Frog's World, but I'm not going to explain it. Everyone can draw their own conclusions. For those of you who enjoy "fighting," you should make sure to grab this issue!